Working together: examples of social work collaboration

March 4, 2015

Social work combines a variety of topics in practice, including the need for support when it comes to adolescent health, an aging population, behavioral health, and schools.

In all of these capacities, there is a need for social workers to collaborate as part of multidisciplinary teams. Whether it is a school social worker strategizing with the school nurse or a government-appointed social worker collaborating with area hospitals, there are common threads between these partnerships.

Here are four examples of how social work may collaborate with other disciplines.

1. Legal Collaboration

According to the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnerships, more than 250 health care institutions in 36 states have adopted medical-legal partnerships.This model, developed in 1993 by Boston Medical Center, unites professionals in the public health, medical, and legal communities through their shared interest in social determinants of health.

For example, the Health, Education, Advocacy, and Law Collaborative in New Jersey (Project HEAL) is based on this medical-legal collaboration model; law students, social work students, and medical residents work together to provide legal and medical services to children with developmental disabilities and their families.

2. Public Health Collaboration

The majority of social workers in the U.S. work in the field of public health, so it’s natural that collaboration exists in this arena. Social workers and public health professionals often work together when it comes to natural disasters or infectious disease. Social workers can help with cultural responsiveness and community-based work such as grief counseling or crisis stabilization.

Social workers also collaborate with public health officials for safety in communities. Public health officials are partnering with social workers to apply empowerment-based intervention and develop prevention strategies around sexual assault and domestic violence.

3. Faith-Based Collaboration

In collaboration with community organizations or faith-based institutions, social workers can provide extended value to the community at large. Clergy is often trusted community resources who can recognize problems and provide spiritual counsel during times of grief or hardship. Social workers can offer an additional layer of support and clinical expertise to enhance the healing process.

While collaboration between clergy and social workers may be currently underutilized, it has the potential to be highly beneficial.

4. Education Collaboration

When it comes to education, collaboration in social work can take on many forms. School-based programs for teen mothers, for example, use the expertise of social workers and outside organizations such as state Departments of Education, churches, and medical centers to provide academic support, counseling, and childcare services in order to bolster teen moms’ success in school.

Lessons in Collaboration

The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing outlines 10 Lessons in Collaboration, many of which can be applied to social work collaboration.

For example:

  • Know thyself. Become an expert in your field and understand the strengths you bring. These skills will be essential for ongoing collaboration with other professionals as you build your career in social work.
  • Develop constructive conflict resolution skills. Part of collaboration, and developing as a leader, is being able to handle conflict/resolution. This is a skill that not only benefits you as a social worker but as a partner among others in supporting industries.
  • Appreciate that collaboration can occur spontaneously. Acknowledge that not all collaboration is planned indefinitely and that spur-of-the-moment partnership will arise.


Find out how Capella University’sonline social work degreescan give you the skills you need to collaborate effectively and build your capacity for leadership in multidisciplinary teams.

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